Akibaranger? YES!

A while back, I posted a hopeful article about the new “unofficial” Super Sentai show currently airing in Japan called Akibaranger.  It’s unofficial because it is, in may ways, a spoof of the genre.  It’s not meant to be taken seriously and, unlike most Super Sentai shows, it’s aimed at adults, seasoned veterans of the series, not at kids.

This makes it, even without watching it, a better show than anything in the past decade.

But it’s not just a spoof of Super Sentai, and indeed all tokusatsu shows in Japan, it’s a send up of the entire geek culture, in particular, the Akihibara subculture that embraces cosplay, roleplaying, collecting, anime, etc.  Everything that’s seen as ultra-geeky in Japan is put on display here, not as a means of making fun, but as a display of how fun it can be.

I specifically waited until I could have a number of episodes under my belt because I didn’t want to be overly critical of something that needed to hit it’s stride, nor hold up a show as genius that didn’t maintain that status.  After seeing 7 episodes though, I’m ready to declare this show genius.

The story of Akibaranger is pretty straightforward so far.  Nobuo Akagi is a self-professed Super Sentai otaku.  He has a vast knowledge of all past series and dreams of being one of them, to the point of modifying his bike delivery uniform into costumes from other series.  He poses, he fantasizes, he wishes he was anything but what he is, a 29-year old loser with no future.  One day, he is discovered by Hiroyo Hakase, owner of a local Super Sentai Cafe, where the employees dress up as Super Sentai characters to entertain the patrons.  Initially, he thinks he’s been discovered to play the Red Ranger in the next Super Sentai series, but it becomes clear that he’s not going to play a Red Ranger, he’s going to be one in the real world, or so he thinks.  He’s paired with two girls, Mitsuki Aoyagi, a well known martial artist who is a closet anime fangirl and Yumeria Moegi, a fanatical cosplayer who is a big fan of Super Sentai, but whose knowledge pales in comparison to Nobuo.  They are given weapons in the shape of a popular anime, Nijiyome Academy Z-Cune Aoi, which Nobuo adores, but feels gets in the way of his dedication to Super Sentai, which allow them to transform into Unofficial Sentai Akibaranger!

Except it doesn’t.  Sort of.  In reality, if that has much meaning in this show, the weapons allow the three to link their shared delusions so they can fight imaginary villains in a dream world.  Nothing you see is really happening, or so they think.  They come to battle Malseena, head of the Stema Otsu Corporation, a group that is dedicated to destroying otaku culture in Akihibara and introducing a more refined society.  By Malseena’s side is a “chief clerk”, a monster that always has an absurdly long name and silly powers.  The  common fodder-type servants of Super Sentai are called Shatieeks, dressed as salarymen and often using office work-related fighting moves.  Their name comes from the Japanese word for “Sacrificial Corporate Drones”.

As time goes on, the Akibarangers realize that they can’t really tell the difference between the “delusion world” and the real world, but at least they know they’re not doing anything really dangerous until… the delusion becomes reality and Malseena and the Stema Otsu Corporation find a way to appear in the real world!

If you’ve ever enjoyed any of the Super Sentai shows, or to a lesser extent, some of the sequences in Power Rangers, which is taken, nay stripped kicking and screaming, from the Japanese sentai shows, Akibaranger is for you.  If you’re a fan of anime, cosplay, rubber-suited superheroes or the like, Akibaranger is for you.  If you’re incredibly serious and don’t want to see a show that pokes fun at everything it comes across, Akibaranger is not for you.  Heck, this blog isn’t for you either.  Of all of my favorite Super Sentai shows throughout the years, the ones that didn’t take themselves wholly seriously have been my favorites.  Magiranger, Carranger and Kamen Rider series like Den-O are among my most beloved, mostly because they acknowledge the utter silliness of what’s going on.  Not really to the point of being a farce, but just a wink at the audience that they know rubber monsters and spandex costumes are kind of ridiculous.  There is a lot of that to examine in Akibaranger.

First, let’s look at some of the Super Sentai tropes.  Heck, look at that picture up in the corner.  Typical sentai-esque pose in front of an explosion, right?  Except every time it happens, it scares the crap out of everyone.  Just when you think they’re expecting the multicolored smoke, something happens.  It’s delayed.  It goes off somewhere else.  The two girls dive for cover.  In one episode, the explosion starts to go off and Akibared starts talking about something else, causing it to abort.

So what else?  They do custom eye-catches every episode.  An eye-catch is the outro and intro that’s used to surround the mid-episode commercial break.  Usually they’re pretty static, a set of characters posing on the way out to commercial break, another set on the way back in.  Akibaranger has used custom eye-catches, so far they haven’t reused a single one.  Likewise, there’s part of the ending theme where one of the characters just talks about something random before the song starts.  Again, none have been repeated so far.

They parody the episode naming conventions, especially as used in Abaranger.  Every single episode title contains the word “ita”.  This kind of thing is common in some Western shows too, such as Mentalist, which contains some variation of the color “red” in every episode title.

Nobuo is such an expert on Super Sentai that he tries to figure out what kind of episode each one is.  Is it a “pilot episode”?  A “parental involvement episode”?  Often, being able to figure out what trope they’re playing out is essential for defeating the monster.  In fact, Nobuo will often explain to his comrades that “oh, she said “handle this for me”, that means we’ll be able to defeat him now!”  Super Sentai has become such a formula and they use that to poke fun at the genre.  One of the most common tropes and one that Nobuo specifically pointed out, is the “transform and you’re magically in a quarry” tradition, where large-scale fights can occur, even if you were just standing in the middle of downtown.

Finally, although there are more, there’s the ever-popular introduction trope.  When the heroes transform, traditionally they have to introduce themselves to the bad guys.  Something like “Fighting evil wherever it may hide, Guy-in-a-costume Red!”  Nobuo immediately tries to do that, although he spends his time comparing his intro to Red rangers of the past.  Mitsuki, who has no past understanding of Super Sentai, started out mumbling “Akibablue, I guess” and Yumeria, who is pretty scatterbrained and often thinking about drawing doujinshi, goes off on a tangent and never really introduces herself.  So far, as with the eye-catches, none of these have been repeated.

Here’s the opening, but you have to work for it.  I haven’t the slightest idea why Toei asked for the openings to be taken down from YouTube.  They obviously don’t care about the music, it’s up all over the place, but the opening credits are hard to find.  Therefore, I’m taking it from this “compilation” video, it starts at 10:42.  But hey, listen to the whole thing, it’s all great music.

I think that what I like about this series more than anything isn’t just that it’s a spoof, but that it’s a love letter to the genre.  They put all kinds of things in the background that you won’t catch if you don’t look closely.  There’s music from all of the Super Sentai shows going constantly.  There are props and monsters wandering around, there’s one episode where people are doing the Magiranger Dance in the background.  Sometime I’m going to have to go back through all the episodes to see what I missed.  It’s great attention to detail and it’s wonderful seeing not only the old costumes, but a lot of the old actors reprising their roles.  There was one episode where Nabuo and Mitsuki go shopping for cosplay costumes and he puts her in every old Sentai costume he can put his hands on.

I find it hard to recommend this show enough.  It’s funny, it’s nostalgic and it’s aimed at the perfect audience.  It’s got me thinking about older Super Sentai series and trying to complete my collection.  Just got the last of Sun Vulcan, in fact!  There’s still lots of shows I need to get, especially the older ones, but slowly I’ll get there.  It just takes a fun show to re-energize the interest.  Akibaranger does that in spades!

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